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The Norfolk Churches Site: an occasional sideways glance at the churches of Norfolk

St Peter, Spixworth


Spixworth door Spixworth

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St Peter, Spixworth

If you leave Norwich by the back door, you can head out along the former Old Catton High Street which eventually becomes a perimeter lane to the east of the airport. The only people about when I first came this way on one bright, cold Saturday morning in early February were a handful of plane spotters, their cars pulled tightly up onto the verge, their binoculars trained. They were escaping the everyday shopping madness of central Norwich as much as I was. As I cycled on, a large blue aeroplane came into land, flying low over the high-hedged field and then right over my head, so close that I thought I could see the tread of its tyres. A huge boom of noise filled the air, and then faded suddenly. I suppose that locals must get used to it.

The lane meandered away from the airport, disgorging me onto the Buxton road, and then I was in Spixworth, surprisingly large and suburban. I headed on, and the busy road curved down into an older part of the village. Suddenly, it was pretty, and there was Spixworth's idiosyncratic church set back from the road facing some cottages and a farm across the junction. It is a church so small that it seems to have joined in the conspiracy to escape attention, Arthur Mee noted when he came this way in the 1930s. And St Peter is a very odd sight, as Pevsner observed. The narrow, pencil-like tower is in the extreme south-west corner, an aisle separating it from the west end of the nave. The tower is older than everything else. Presumably it came from an earlier church, although it is hard to see how it can ever have been anywhere other than the south-west corner.

The nave and chancel both appear to be of the 14th Century, the aisle more than a century later. As Pevsner notes, the aisle appears to coincide with a 1499 bequest for a south porch, but this was never built. The arcade between nave and aisle is also late 15th Century, suggesting that, unless the former church was demolished for the aisle to be built, tower and church were separate from each other for more than a century. There is an entrance at the west end of the aisle, an ununusual arrangement to say the least. Part of the churchyard has been set aside for walks, and on this day it was full of snowdrops, late winter tipping into early spring, a pleasant place to wander.

A sign inside the doorway announces that you are always welcome here, whether you have faith or not. How lovely that is, and not something you see every day. They certainly expect visitors, because almost everything has a notice on it, explaining what it is, how old it is and what it is for. The interior you step into can be a little gloomy at first, the squarish nave dimmed by the range of coloured glass, a full scheme by Lavers, Barraud and Westlake, nstalled over a period of about twenty years as the 19th Century became the 20th Century.

The most exciting feature of Spixworth church is much earlier. This is the memorial up in the tiny chancel depicting two life-size corpses in their shrouds. Now, there's something else you don't see everyday. The figures (represented naturalistically as dead - Pevsner) are William and Alice Peck. William died in 1635, a time of great piety, both Laudian and Puritan - the ornate pediment and elaborate Latin inscription suggest that the Pecks were of the former party.

William and Alice Peck, 1630s

cadaver monument corpse in a shroud corpse in a shroud

What appears to be a rugged Norman font (but is it really an old mortar? There's one very similar at Sudbourne in Suffolk) is topped by a finely-carved modern cover in the Classical tradition. It remembers a mother and daughter who both died in 1967. Nearby are deposited the remains of William Feltom late of Sprowston. His inscription notes that the man whose memory this marble perpetuates performed the relative duties of a Christian with fidelity. Beside it is the church's large royal arms, plainly a set for Charles II, but recharged and relettered for George I.

Late 19th Century furnishings pack the nave, chancel and aisle. It is easy to imagine this place in the years before the First World War, the High Church liturgy intoned in the full confidence of the Eternal. It couldn't last, but it left its mark. I sat in the half-light for a while and listened to the birds outside, until at last another aeroplane thundered through the silence. What a lovely little church, a quiet, slightly cluttered space sustained by a sense of the numinous which lifts the heart.

Simon Knott, November 2020

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sanctuary looking east
into the light Faith, Charity, Hope (Lavers & Westlake, 1909) St Peter the empty tomb font
who met his death on the open road G R (but originally C R) royal arms both died in 1967
Faith Charity Hope

you are always welcome


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The Norfolk Churches Site: an occasional sideways glance at the churches of Norfolk